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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

From Cap and Gown to Wedding Gown

At a time when most are struggling to figure out what job they'll hold next year, these seniors are making a lifetime commitment

By Thomas J. Castillo, Contributing Writer

Love, Tommy's Style

Matthew J. Peed '00 knew he'd found a keeper in Sarah G. Ellis '99 when, after getting dressed up for a more formal outing that ended up being canceled, she still had great time just going to Tommy's with him for a slice of pizza, then renting a movie afterward.

The Facts. Matthew, originally from Columbus, Ga., lives in Adams House and is a biochemistry concentrator. Sarah, from Mount Pleasant, Mich., also lived in Adams House and concentrated in Slavic Languages and Literatures. She has been working in Cambridge for the past year. They will be married Sept. 9 in a Methodist church in Mount Pleasant. They plan to honeymoon somewhere quiet and free of tourists--perhaps, they say, some small islands off North Carolina.

At Sunset. When Matthew flew to Sarah's hometown last winter vacation, her friends and family suspected he was about to propose. Matthew's plan was to pop the question at midnight on New Year's Eve, but he found the perfect moment a little earlier, and decided to get down on one knee during the last sunset of the millennium.

Chivalry Survives (Barely). The couple's first date was back in October 1998, when Matthew took Sarah to hear some jazz at the Bay Tower Room. Matthew had underestimated the cost and almost came up short on cash. Luckily, he had enough to scrape by.

"I didn't realize how expensive the place was until after we got there. I barely had enough to cover it," he says. "But of course, I didn't tell her that."

Physic-al Attraction

Matthew Nis Leerberg '00 met Kelly A. Perry at a summer science program after their junior year in high school. They hit it off pretty quickly, and Kelly had little trouble convincing Matthew to drop his physics class to spend more time with her. He later made up for it by becoming a physics concentrator.

The Facts. Matthew, a roommate of groom-to-be Matthew Peed, lives in Adams House. Kelly graduated this May from Wake Forest University with a degree in biology. The couple will be married in a Catholic Mass on June 24 in Pittsburgh, their hometown. They will spend their honeymoon in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Perks of Long-Distance Love? While Matthew admits that distance caused some tension in the relationship, he is quick to enumerate the benefits of having a girlfriend hundreds of miles away.

"In some ways, it's the best of both worlds," he says. "I never had to jump into the dating scene, worry about what I looked like, or anything like that."

"I could focus on school and being with my friends," he says. "It was actually very freeing."

Thank Dorm Crew. As a first-year Matthew forgot about Valentine's Day until the last minute. Late in the day, in a panic, he ordered so many roses to be delivered that he was still paying off the debt by year's end. In fact, he says, those flowers were the reason he decided to stay and earn some money working for dorm crew.

Couple of Entrepreneurs. "Kelly and I ran a good scam when we were still in high school," Matthew says. "She convinced her parents to pay me to come over and tutor her in calculus once a week."

Plans. The pair will live in North Carolina, where Matthew plans to find a job in business. Kelly will study law at Duke University.

Will I What?

David C. McPhie '98-'00 and Erin H. McPhie (nee Holsinger) '98-'00 met during their first week back in 1994, at a get-together for Mormon first-years at Herrell's.

After learning during introductions that Erin had lived in Taiwan, David introduced himself to her using the only phrase he knew in Chinese: "Will you marry me?"

Little did he know he would repeat the phrase four years later, in English, and mean it.

So what was Erin's original answer?

"She pretty much just blew me off," David says. "When I asked, she just laughed and walked away."

Luckily, his second try yielded a better result.

The Facts. Erin, an English concentrator affiliated with Leverett House, is from Arlington, Va. David, a physics concentrator from San Diego, Calif., is affiliated with Adams House. The two started dating sometime sophomore year. David proposed for real during first-year week 1998, and they were married at Christmastime that year in Salt Lake City. They now live together in an apartment in the Harvard-affiliated Terry Terrace.

How Many Weeks in a Year? Erin and David are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and took two years off from college to serve as missionaries, Erin in Hong Kong and David in Spain. They say that, though they missed each other, some aspects of the separation were fun.

Under the church's rules, they were only permitted to correspond with one letter per week. When they returned from their missions, Erin didn't believe that David had actually sent a letter every week, so they counted. Exactly 104 letters--David hadn't missed one. They also traded audiotapes by mail.

Study Buddies. David and Erin have found that they love taking classes together and, somehow, marriage has made them both much better students. David did, however, have to get used to Erin's habit of getting better grades on Historical Studies A-80 essays.

"It's so great when you have someone else sort of looking out for you," David says. "Erin makes me go to bed at a reasonable hour, for example, so now I stay awake during lecture."

"That almost never happened before," he laughs.

Early Graduation Present? Erin is nine months pregnant, and the baby is due any day now.

"It's convenient that the family will be in town anyway," she says.

Plans. David will start this fall at Harvard Law School. Erin will stay home to care for the baby.

Intern in Love

Ming L. Hsu '00 interned at the same non-profit civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. as Stephen H. Chen, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. Sharing interests in civil rights and public service, specifically in connection with Asian immigrants, the pair hit it off right away.

The Facts. Ming, a California native, is a joint concentrator in social studies and religion, living in Lowell House. Stephen earned a degree from the Graduate School of Education in 1996 and recently finished law school at Emory University in Atlanta. The couple does not have concrete wedding plans yet.

A Normal Relationship. The pair has spent most of their relationship separated by thousands of miles. Ming said the distance was difficult to deal with, but it has made their upcoming life together seem that much more exciting. They are engaged, but before they set a date, they want to spend some time living together in Washington, D.C. to test out their relationship in a normal dating situation.

Too Young?

"I didn't expect to get married so soon after college, but I guess it's all about finding right person," Ming says.

Plans. Ming deferred admission to New York University Law School for a year to live with Stephen in Washington. She will spend the summer working at the Brookings Institute as part of an Institute of Politics fellowship, then work on civil rights for the Department of Justice. Stephen will work for the U.S. Senate, Office of Legislative Council.

Tropical Romance

Hawaiians Jon P. Lim '00 and Jill E. Hayashi met in seventh grade in Honolulu. Soon, they were high school sweethearts.

Tropical Romance

The Facts. Jon, from Kailua, concentrates in East Asian Studies and lives in Leverett House. Jill, from Kaneohe, started out at Scripps College in Claremont, Ca., then transferred to Boston University for her senior year. She graduates this spring with a degree in elementary education. The two are planning a large Christian ceremony, inviting about 400 people to Kailua on July 23. They will honeymoon in Montana near Yellowstone National Park.

Ring Tricks. Jon wanted his proposal to be a surprise, so he had to invent a ruse to steal one of Jill's rings long enough to compare it to his pinky, then return it before she noticed. Since Jon, the perfect gentleman, had already asked Jill's family's permission for her hand in marriage, he was able to have Jill's grandmother's diamond reset in a new engagement ring for Jill.

A Mountainous Proposal. Jon proposed this last Thanksgiving break in Colorado. Jill, Jon and two of Jon's brothers were off in the Rocky Mountains on a reunion for his church youth group.

One of Jon's brothers, in on the plan, suggested a seemingly innocent double date to a natural amphitheater in Red Rocks National Park. The brother then slipped off ahead, and Jill was soon surprised to find a bunch of roses among the rocks. When, a few yards further on, there was another bouquet waiting, along with a guitar in the bushes nearby, Jill realized there was something odd afoot.

When Jon picked up the guitar and began to play a song he'd written for the occasion, about "two children splashing in puddles of love," Jill's jaw dropped. He asked, she said yes.

But the adventure was still not quite over. Continuing on the hike, Jill soon found a towel and a small thermos of warm water by the path. Jon used the water to wash Jill's feet.

"Jesus washed his disciples' feet as a sign of his devotion, and I want this example to set the foundation and tone for our relationship," Jon explains.

Finally, the last stop: The lovebirds hiked on to find a champagne bottle--filled with Mountain Dew--and shared a toast as Jon's brother, hidden in the bushes, snapped pictures.

Plans. Jon will work at Harvard Business School for two years as a research associate, preparation for a possible career in business. Jill will teach at an elementary school in the Boston area.

Backstage Romance

Lori H. Sonderegger '00 and Mike J. DeCleene '99 met in fall 1998 when they were both on the technical crew for "Crimes of the Heart," a student theater production. Their first date was a trip to see the show on its opening night. During the show, other members in the crew exchanged bets over the headsets about their chances of becoming a couple.

The Facts. Lori, an Eliot House resident from Orange, Conn., is a joint concentrator in chemistry and physics and in French. Mike, from Chicago, lived in Pforzheimer House and concentrated in economics.

The marriage will be at the First Church in Cambridge on Garden Street June 23.

Rocky Proposal. Mike's 13-year-old sister wanted to help choose the engagement ring. She felt slighted when Mike picked one without her, so she bought him a garden-variety rock with the words "Marry me" painted on it. Mike thought it was so cute that he proposed to Lori by handing her the rock rather than the ring.

Plans. Lori will study French literature in a graduate program at Duke University. She says she would eventually like to return to New England. Mike plans to work in North Carolina, though he does not have a job lined up yet.

Serious Business

The traditional romantic proposal--on a sunset walk, for instance--just wouldn't do for James L. Hegyi '00 and Alisa N. Plesco. Instead, James, former business manager for the Crimson, sat Alisa down to discuss the issue of marriage. After weighing the costs and benefits, the two decided marriage was a good idea and that the wedding would take place June 17.

The Facts. James is a classics concentrator from Southport, Conn. living in Mather House. Alisa, from Pittsburgh, graduated this May from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in bioengineering. The pair started dating as seniors at Phillips Exeter Academy. For their honeymoon, they will travel to Italy's Amalfi coast and then to Rome.

A Woman's Intuition. James and Alisa wanted to announce the marriage to both sets of parents in person, so they flew to visit Alisa's parents first.

One week later, with James' family, they announced they had something interesting to tell James' parents. James' mother was hardly surprised. She had suspected the plan immediately upon hearing the couple was visiting Alisa's family. She told them she had already decided to give her blessing.

Plans. The couple will live in New York City. Both plan to join the work force, James as an analyst at Blackstone Group, though Alisa may later go to graduate school.

Honey, Do You Like the Ring?

Derek T. Ransom and Janessa M. Ransom '98-'00 (nee Hunter) wed last August. The possibility of proposal was no surprise to Janessa--the couple had gone ring shopping together.

"I told him I wanted him to propose to me as a surprise, but he couldn't wait," Janessa recalls. "He showed me right away."

Unable to contain himself, Derek called Janessa's parents to ask their permission. Then he asked Janessa to call his mother and ask permission. Both Derek's mother and Janessa were confused by the untraditional move, but they played along anyway.

The Facts. Janessa, an English concentrator, is affiliated with Leverett House and is originally from Boise, Idaho. Derek graduated from MIT in 1998 with a degree in chemical engineering. He is from Salt Lake City and currently works for a local Internet startup.

The wedding took place last August in Boise, and the couple spent their honeymoon in and near Jackson Hole, Wyo., hiking through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

All That Jazz. For their first date, the couple went to the Regatta Bar. A jazz aficionado, Janessa was happy to learn that Derek played the saxophone, and suggested the outing. But each one claims that the other actually asked first.

Love Letters. Janessa and Derek belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They met after Derek returned from his mission but before Janessa left for hers. She spent two years in northern Italy and was permitted to write Derek only once a week.

"Being apart was the most difficult part of the relationship, but we got to fall in love all over again when I came back," she says.

Plans. The pair will stay in Boston while Derek continues at the start-up. Janessa has applied to graduate schools, but says her career may go on hold because the couple hopes to begin a family posthaste.

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